Illustration of Paul Baumer in a German army uniform with a red background

All Quiet on the Western Front

by Erich Maria Remarque

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Explain the attitude of this novel towards World War I and all wars. Do you agree or disagree with the author? Why or why not? The novel is All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.

The second part of your question is a little more difficult to answer. Remarque was not anti-war but was merely giving his opinion about the futility of war. Other novelists, like Stephen Crane and Ernest Hemingway, were pro-war (and Hemingway did serve in World War I). It is more accurate to say that Remarque was strongly against the Great War but would fight for his country if necessary.

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This is an opinion question, so it is difficult to reply to your question in full. The first part of your question is the most easily addressed in the ENotes format.

The German-language novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque is one of the most influential anti-war novels of all time. Although Remarque did not consider himself a political author, his novel unflinchingly explores the horror of the First World War and the complicity of those who encouraged the victims to enlist. The novel examines World War I through the lens of a single German soldier, Paul Baumer. Through flashbacks and a non-linear plot structure, “All Quiet on the Western Front” catalogs Paul’s journey from enlistment to training, the battlefield and, ultimately, his death. That Remarque chose to end his novel with the death of the protagonist is interesting because Baumer’s death in the final pages of the novel punctuates the book’s dominant theme: the futility of war.

Paul and his friends constantly rage in frustration at the unfairness of their dilemma. They are keenly aware that their enemies in the opposing trenches are stuck in the same predicament as they are. A sense of camaraderie between all soldiers from both sides of the conflict emerges in Remarque’s novel precisely because of the First World War’s futility. The protagonist of the novel famously says,

“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”

This shows the anti-war nature of the novel. The war portrayed in “All Quiet on the Western Front,” is not an adventure; it is hell. For the men who fought in the First World War, no glory was gained, and no treasure was won. Their sacrifices in the mud achieved nothing. It is this that Remarque highlights when he states his purpose in the epigraph:

"This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”

Through the honest and poetic portrayal of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” Remarque showcases the utter futility of the First World War and, by extension, clearly exhibits an anti-war sentiment.

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In the novel, Paul Baumer is the first-person narrator. In reading a work of fiction , it is important to distinguish the author from any of their creations. The use of first-person indicates that the perspectives offered are those of the character who is speaking; these views may be completely different from the author’s opinions. Baumer places his experiences in the context of his comrades, implying that they share...

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his views. Erich Maria Remarque was a German soldier during World War I; his experiences colored his perspectives and encouraged him to write the book, which took him more than ten years to complete and publish. Each reader must decide whether the narrator’s views apply only to specific aspects—the German experience, the Great War, or twentieth-century technologized warfare—or more broadly to war in general.

Baumer and many of his fellow soldiers are shown as unwilling participants who are affected by their teacher’s patriotic fervor. Many attempt to evade their duties, and some commit illegal or unethical acts, such as theft. The officers are depicted as inflicting unjust punishments from which they sometimes seem to get sadistic satisfaction. The soldiers not only participate in battles against the enemy, but are in conflict with each other. Those who go on home leave find that civilians cannot comprehend what they are enduring and often do not appreciate their sacrifice. The physical injuries and psychological damage—what was then known as “shell shock” and which is now known as “post-traumatic stress disorder”—had not previously been described in such graphic detail in fictional works in any country. Furthermore, the pessimism and despair of the “lost” soldiers was criticized in Remarque’s native Germany as unpatriotic.

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Though of course it is just my opinion, Remarque was commenting on the futility and the utterly back-breaking sadness of a war and its ability to destroy an entire generation of youth from, in this case, Europe. His attitude is likely that the entire operation is pointless, driven by people so far outside of the actual combat that they can make decisions about millions of young men's lives without considering them as real or as in any way affecting them.

One of the reasons why I tend to agree with Remarque's attitude is that the author was excoriated by the pro-Nazi movement in Germany, and all copies of the book were burned. It was seen as a danger to the powers that felt that war could be held up as a glorious enterprise, one that was worth undertaking for whatever gains, political or economic, and damn the casualties.

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